“Thomas Jordan”: The unknown general

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Many heroes and martyrs of our liberating heroic deeds have remained totally ignored. The causes of it go from the physical disappearance of men who personally known them and later died without having left testimony and include the professionalism´s lack of investigators that, as slaves of ideological principles, are only capable to see greatness in those figures with which they feel identified- by partisan or by motives of social class-and that condemn to the oversight those ones who dissented or argued- in a frank and honest way- with the object that is cult of its devotion.

One of them is the North American Thomas Jordan, born on December 13, 1819 within a Virginia´s Southerner rich family. Affirming that Cuban´s historians of the first half of XX th century ignored the man that during an earth-shattering moment of the Ten Year´s War directed the Liberation Army, he would be a mishap. However except Vidal Morales and Morales, very few offered a whole image of the combat soldier that in order to go to fight for the independence of a brother country, gave up the comforts of his home.

During the second half of the XXth century, contrarily to what could be expected, because Jordan embodies perfectly it than for the official historiography of the last forty years, constitute the internationalist’s image, his name has appeared, with exceptional character, in some monographs, although only mentioned tangentially and without discussing the political connotation that had his designation like commander of the Liberating Army, neither his resign cause.

Recently, the work of a military historian René González Barrios, Boundary-Free Souls, collected brief semblances of the foreigners that caught up with general’s degree during our independents’ struggles, and between them, he meets the one of the illustrious North American. Nevertheless, the small volume dodges the fundamental relative aspects to the circumstances that surrounded the presence of Jordan between us.

A graduated in the Military Academy of West Point in 1939, once the North American civil war exploded in 1861, he joined his confederated brothers; and, as the Chief of Staff general Beaugeraud, he took part in the battles of Bull Run, Manassas, and Shiloh, even to catch up with colonel’s degree. We know that in the defense of the city of Charleston he fraternized with the Cuban Ambrosio González, who with the degree of general, was artillery chief of the besieged plaza. This army officer had participated with Narciso López in the Cardenas´ expedition, where he was the first combat soldier wounded. Perhaps never could be proved that González was the first one in transmitting Jordan the desires and efforts of the Cubans to attain his independence; but it is not inaccurate to infer that after each combat these experienced paladins exchanged their last experiences.

In 1869, the New York´s Cuban Board asked Jordan to come to Cuba, in order that he organized the Republic in arms´ military forces. In May 11 of the same year, Cuba´s coasts are reached by the ship Perritt with a 300 men’s expedition – 80 North Americans and a good number of Peruvians, Venezuelans and Colombians with Jordan as warlord and Francisco Javier Cisneros as civilian chief.

Almost disembarked from the ship, they collide with Spanish troops in Mayarí (May 16), and they exterminate them. Next to Jordan, like officer assistant, also came to Cuba the young boy Henry H. Reeve, the named Inglesito of that warlike struggle. On 20 June takes place the combat of Canalito. Jordan, impress by the warlike ardor of his assistant in the battle, exclaims: “Give that boy a rifle. Is more braver that Julius Caesar. (2)

The general Quesada, on behalf of Government of the Republic in arms, named Jordan as general of the second division. The words of reception came from Dr. Félix Figueredo, who expressed: “General, Cuba´s Republic expects that your sword be as it was Lafayette’s sword to the Washington´s illustrious troops (…) (3) in frank allusion to french army officer of so prominent participation in the United States´ War of Independence.

For his part, the president Céspedes, in circulating dated the June 11, 1869, in Sabanilla of Sibanicú, communicated to the Oriental chiefs, than:

(…) the field marshal has named the American Thomas Jordan as operations´ chief general of that State (Oriente), having in account for it that it is a valuable, knowledge man and with proved military skills to serve in the army demonstrated in the documents that he comes supplied, and in the doings that have had place in our fields when lately has broken a lance with our enemies (…)(4)

Against his experience, capacity and good efforts, Jordan runs into several difficulties. He ignores Spanish language; neither is familiar with the topography of the theater of war. Besides, he does not understand the idiosyncrasy of men under his command , (…) not being able to molding with the disorder of our troops, because of the habit that has to give orders to disciplined troops and expert officers, (5) when saying about by the citizen Peter Figueredo, Secretary of War, in letter to the general Quesada, as is cited by Sanguily.

These doings, without doubt dominated by Céspedes, make to suppose that the nomination of Jordan to such a high-ranking position was bound most of all to a political decision more than by these army officer´s expertise. The biographer of the major general Ignacio Agramonte, historian Mary Cruz, plays with this idea but without penetrating on it when she affirms:
“Jordan had been Chief of Staff of the general Beaugiraud during the North American War of Secession. The Cubans had hired him with the aim of winning the hearts of the United States´ citizens, and, perhaps, the one of their rulers”(6)

But is was that what it was looked for with the designation of Jordan as Chief Of Staff of Orient and a little later as General Staff´s Chief?
In the above-cited Order 147 of Céspedes, dated on June 11 the 1869, it´s established in one of its final paragraphs:

“ (…) finally, than you with your knowledge and with your will collaborate for as many means suggest it to you your love to the Fatherland, that we take to happy term the consolidation of our government, making keeping the necessary equilibrium of the different powers that constitute it, in order that tomorrow we can be worthy of entering to being a part of the Great American Republic, that we have take as a model, and at which we have proposed already our annexation, knowing that covered under the benefactress shade of its flag, and feed and nourished with its wise institutions, Cuba can keep on being happy”.(7)
Although the hero-worshiping and other bad things that afflicted the ranks of the easternmost region of the Island had made Jordan to think to leave the insurgent field, to principles of October of the same year, he draws himself up to camagüeyanas forces, as Chief of Staff of General Ignacio Agramonte. According to Mary Cruz, the Mayor had been thumbs down on the designation of Jordan as major general of the Legion of Orient, and that he was even considering denigratory this nomination. The authoress does not quote the source from where she obtained this information; but, be true or no, the order broadcast by the Mayor in 8 October, 1869; he does not leave doubts about his conformity with the dictated for Céspedes, as well as his decision of enforcing it:
“(…) the distinguished army officer the Chief of Staff will be, therefore, for his knowledge and his decision, an auxiliary and soothe to this Headquarters. That’s why I recommend and I demand to that his orders be obeyed without hesitation for public welfare and consideration of the army (…)”(8)

The deep democratic spirit of Jordan became manifest when the general Quesada, chief of army of the Republic in arms, gave the main warlords an appointment to request dictatorial full authority, under the pretext of saving the revolutionary cause. Jordan backed up Agramonte’s position and declared his decision of renouncing (…) if the military authority overcame the Constitution (…)

Jordan´s sharpened vision of the political problems led him to suggest the House approve the renunciation of Quesada instead of removing him from his position. But on December 15, 1869, the House approves Quesada’s destitution and the designation of Jordan to substitute it in his condition of General Chief of Staff, although without granting him Field Marshal’s title.

The first one of January 1870, Jordan at the head of 548 men, faces a two thousand Spanish infantry´s force, 100 riders, 25 volunteers and three cannons, directed by the Dominican marshal Eusebio Puello. After one hour of combat, the Cuban forces leave their trenches and retire in organized way to the forest´s thickest part. Once the park was depleted, it´s impossible to continue the confrontation. Jordan proves to be enlightening in its military report, dated the 6 January:

“(…) it has been found 200 dead persons in the field, among themselves a lot of bosses and officers, as well as around 45 horses. The action that it began at midday on the dot, lasted for 75 minutes, in whose time were rejected three successive charge given for the Spanish ranks of line in close and compact formations of 500 meters in length the least (…).

“(…) our total loss has been two dead persons (…) and twelve wounded, and only one is a grave case (…) (9)

Vidal Morales affirms that this was (…) the noisiest and more notable combat of the war to Palo Seco, according to the authorized Mr. Sanguily’s opinion.(10)
In relation to the Jordan-Agramonte relationship, Mary Cruz expressed:

“The personal contact with this man, connoisseur of the formal tactics of war, proved to be favorable for the Mayor. With him he had opportunity to see a boss of experience, as much in what’s administrative as in the purely military work (…) (11)

However, everything seems to indicate that it proved to be difficult for Agramonte to be applicable in Camaguey the military principles that Jordan defended. Before the impossibility of saving this contradiction, in letter dated on February 6, 1870, Jordan addresses himself to Antonio Lorda, a member of the House of Representatives.

“Before this letter gets to your hands, without a doubt you had already news of my renunciation and of the causes that, in my judgment, put me in the case of acting that way. () I Cannot honestly Proceed in a different way, even when I did not know that to make war as General Agramonte and many of their underlings wish that I make it, it is to fail to Cuba and that the result of it has to be an act of physical and moral suicide (…) ”(12)

Perhaps nobody as Collazo could sum up in a sentence the transcendence that had the fleeting step of Jordan for the highest leadership of the Liberating Army

“a career soldier, with intelligence, value and goodwill, had the necessary conditions for the position; But unfortunately for Cuba, he had arrived much too early. Not understanding, he was combated in such a way, that his efforts came to nothing, obliging him very soon to renounce” (13)

Jordan kept itself in its position even on March 9, day in which he quit Cuba. The House of Representatives, gathered in Guáimaro just before her departure, agreed unanimously, according to Vidal Morales:

Entrusting a vote of thanks to the general citizen Thomas Jordan for heat, activity and skill that he deployed in the performance of the position of General Chief Of Staff and mainly in the glorious attained victory under his direction in Minas de Guáimaro the first of January 1870 (…) (14)

Jordan loved Cuba and felt great admiration for the Cubans; when the moment of the departure came, he made it with sadness. In his renunciation he had expressed:

(…) I have buried a great hope with my renunciation, because I had counted on the possibility of linking my name to the independence of Cuba, and making of the Island my home and the one of my children (…) (15)

However the frustration of their more caressed dreams could not obscure the admiration that he felt for the titanic fight that Cubans were freeing; that’s why on December 6, 1870, already in North American land, he writes a letter to the “World” where he expresses:

“ No country has revolted never because to more provocations, and no people has fought never with so much obstinacy for freedom and surrounded of so numerous and discouraging misfortunes, as the Cubans fight at the present time (…) Our foregone got the help from France, consisting of troops, weapons and munitions. The Cubans have not had the help of no part, on the contrary, the governments of the United States and England have interposed their authority to impede directly that they receive any one helps” (16)
The failure of the War of the Ten Years and the apparent Spanish power in its West Indian cologne, perhaps it made think Jordan that the cause of independence had become definitively buried. So that, in 1891, he publish in the influencer reviewed The Forum, an article the one that he interceded in openly for the intervening annexation from the Island to the United States by acquisition from Spain. In November 1895, in the same year of the reinitiating of our wars for independence, Jordan died in the city of New York, the conqueror of the most important combat of the Big War till to the battle of Palo Seco. It would be beautiful that we, the grateful Cubans, dedicate a minute to remember the noble Virginian, who few years before his death (17), bottled already Marti and his collaborators in the preparation of the necessary war, when Gonzalo of Quesada visited him, to thank him for everything that he had made for Cuba, his answer was simply:
“I wish that I would have been able to make more!”(18)
1) Article published in the magazine Espacios, Quarterly of the Promotion Team for the social participation of the Layman (EPAS), of the Archdiocese of Havana, No 2 of 2004. By reasons of space the article was published on a synthesized way and did not appear in the footnotes.
2) Morales y Morales, Vidal. “Hombres del 68”, p 291-292
3) Ibidem. p. 286
4) Ibidem, p.288
5) Ibidem, p. 285.
6) Cruz, Mary. “El mayor”, p.154
7) Morales, Vidal, Op. Cit. P.288
8) Ibidem p.287
9) Officcial report of the battle made by Jordan and appointed by Vidal Morales, Op. Cit.293
10) Morales y Morales, Vidal, Op. Cit. P. 292
11) Cruz, Mary, “El Mayor”, p. 158
12) Letter dated the 6 February 1870. Appointed by Vidal Morales y Morales in “Hombres del 68”, pp. 289-290
13) Collazo, Enrique “Cuba heroica”. Pp. 111-112
14) Morales Vidal Op. Cit. Pp.295-296
15) Letter to Antonio Lorda. Appointed by Vidal Morales. Op. Cit. 291
16) Morales, Vidal. Op. Cit. pp. 294-295
17) Jordan dies on November 1895 and the interview with Gonzalo de Quesada was in 1891.
18) Quesada, Gonzalo de “Tomás Jordán” ( in “Páginas escogidas”) p. 58

Collazo, Enrique “Cuba Heroica”, Editorial Oriente , Guantánamo1980.
Cruz, Mary. “El Mayor”,Editorial “Contemporáneos” (UNEAC), La Habana. 1972.
González Barrios, René. “Almas sin Fronteras”, Ediciones Verde Olivo, La Habana, 1996
Jordan, Thomas “Why we need Cuba” in the magazine The Forum, July 1891
Morales y Morales, Vidal “Hombres del 68”, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1978
Quesada, y Aróstegui, Gonzalo. “Páginas Escogidas”, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 1968

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